Yucaipa and Citrus Valley battled for the Citrus Belt League title on Saturday. (Angel Pena photo)
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In this odd, uncanny, and do we dare to say, 'unprecedented' situation that we have all found ourselves embroiled in for over 12 months, the majority of leagues in the Southern Section were able to squeeze in a cross country season, albeit in February and March.
With that, cross country has officially come to a close as we now transition into the delayed track and field season.
But before we move forward, let's glance back in the rearview mirror at the last weekend of the abbreviated season in the Southern Section.
REV and Yucaipa Close Out the Citrus Belt LeagueNo surprises here as the boys from Redlands East Valley and the women from Yucaipa closed out, in a dominating fashion, the Citrus Belt League duals.
Favored to capture the Division 3 CIF-SS team title coming into the season, the senior-driven Redlands East Valley squad consistently displayed their talent these past two months. Matt Hornung (15:00.8) ran away from teammate, Simon Opsahl (15:17.1) as they were the only two on the day to run faster than 15:45. In the overall merging of squads, REV ran away, outscoring the rest of the league combined, with a minuscule 24-point score. While Liam Mapes (15:49.7) trailed his teammates, he still recorded the third-fastest time on the day. Take note that despite REV's top three being all seniors, freshmen Emmanuel Wallace and Sean Walker closed out the scoring for the crew with two other underclassmen that will return this fall.
Referencing the overall merge, Beaumont out leaned Citrus Valley by one point, 59-60. Beaumont senior Dustin Berger (16:16.7) led the Cougars while Citrus Valley was paced by junior Jake Caliva (15:54.7).
State Meet qualifiers in 2019, Yucaipa's girls worked to replace losses from graduation. With some company up front, the Thunderbirds gave us a glimpse of why they would have been competing for a postseason trip to Fresno once again. Junior Kaitlyn Townsend (18:49) emerged from their pack to a convincing 29-second victory over teammate Clarissa Clark (19:18).
Meanwhile, the freshmen duo of Gabriella Romero (19:19) and Hailie Lomeli (19:23) shined for Citrus Valley and broke into Yucaipa's top three. But with overwhelming depth compared to the rest of the league, Yucaipa claimed the next six spots in the overall merge. Putting it all together, Yucaipa left with scoring 21 points to Citrus Valley's 48.
The Yucaipa pack of six all crossed within 14 seconds of one another as sophomore Cali Good (19:27) paced that group to victory.
Xavier Prep Girls, La Quinta's Boys Rule the Desert Empire LeagueDespite competing against much larger schools, the girls of Xavier Prep have become accustomed to using the competition to shine brighter against Division 5 foes as the program has qualified for the past three State Championships.
Senior Molly May has been a driving force behind that success, but this season, she gave way to freshman Ashleigh Schein as both battled down to the finish. With soccer as her first sport, Schein's top finish in the previous two meets had been no higher than fourth. With the 1-2 finish, Xavier Prep scored 28 points, ahead of La Quinta's 41. The Blackhawks of La Quinta were headlined by junior Monique Verduzco's third-place finish.
La Quinta senior Raen Reyes was on the rise before the shutdown a year ago after impressing at the California Winter Championships. We will get to see his talent break the 4:20 threshold for the 1600 meters soon enough, but first, he concluded his prep Cross Country career with a dominating victory at the last Desert Empire League meet. Reyes crossed with a wire-to-wire 23-second victory over Palm Desert's Julian Elliott.
Behind Reyes, La Quinta also commanded the action on the team front in placing five in the top nine and scoring only 24 points. Junior Ryan Henderson placed third for La Quinta. Shadow Hills, led by Thomas McDonald's fourth-place finish, gave chase with 49 points.
Serrano's Girls Claim another Mojave River League TitleConducted at Victory Valley College, the women of Serrano captured their TENTH straight Mojave River team title! Head coach Ken Quinn, consistently mentoring his squads to the State Meet with seven trips in the past eight seasons, faced considerable absences from graduation going into the 2020 season.
With that, one returner continued to roll as junior Tiani Goeson ran to her second league title, while her resume also includes two top-five finishes at the 2018-2019 CIF-SS Division 2 finals. Goeson was challenged by Leah Tomlinson of Burroughs but continued to move away with the 47-second victory. Carly and Siena Burns placed third and fourth, respectively as Serrano motored to a 29-64 team title over Oak Hills. Burroughs placed third with 70 points.
On the boys' side, we had Burroughs was coming a strong 2019 season where they just missed the State Meet in the over so dreaded eighth-place spot. We had them slated for a top-five finish in 2020 and they have only improved from those numbers in closing their 1-5 scoring gap. Ninth at the 2019 State Division IV Championships, Bryce Hill of Burroughs raced away from Serrano's Anthony Hernandez for his second Mojave River individual title.
In demonstrative fashion, Burroughs captured their first Mojave River team title by placing all five scorers in the top seven. Vastly improved sophomore Yaseen Sardar and Ben Washburn came in after Hernandez to secure the 21-36 victory over Serrano's boys. Both squads combined claimed 11 of the top 12 spots.
Poly's boys and Millikan's girls earn Moore League titles
With five across among the first eight, Long Beach Poly's boys won a narrow battle with Milikan, and the Rams' girls, led by race runner-up Rebeca Perez, held off the Jackrabbits at the Moore League Cross Country Finals held Saturday at Cabrillo HS.
Wilson's Natalie Seymour was the girls overall champion, running the Cabrillo High layout in 19:42.34. Perez was next in 19:45.35 followed by a pair of Jackrabbits in Alexa Bryson (19:52.64) and Camille Lindsay (20:05.23). From there, four of the next six to finish were girls from Millikan: Erin Aguirre in fifth (20:15.23), Hazel McIntosh in sixth (20:19.96), Rebecca Ellens in eighth, and Grace Vasquez in 10th, crossing just after Poly's No. 4 Danika Hunter.
South Pasadena's Streak of Tigers Control the Rio Hondo LeagueSenior Andrew Villapudua added the Rio Hondo League title to his resume in leading his Tigers to a commanding victory. His teammates came in to place four in the top five and all scorers coming across within the top eight. Removing displacers, the Tigers scored a perfect 15!
Much of the same on the girls' side with South Pasadena placing the top two well ahead of anybody else here. Senior Lindsay Michels (18:07) and junior Sydney Morrow (18:23) were truly the class of the league here as the only two to break the 20-minute barrier. Michels has displayed marked improvement from her junior year in 2019 while Morrow placed sixth at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 4 finals and qualified for the State Meet as an individual.
South Pasadena placed all five scorers in the top eleven, en route to the 22-69 convincing victory over San Marino.
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Mark Gardner is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA and serves as the Southern Section editor.
MileSplitCA editor Jeffrey Parenti contributed to this report.